Why Microsoft’s Development Must Be More Open Than Apple’s

on September 14, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Matt Rosoff at Business Insider writes that a principal reason why Microsoft reveals a lot more about its development process than Apple does is that Apple is a consumer products company while Microsoft is a technology company.That’s somewhat oversimplified, but mostly true as far as it goes. However, it misses some deeper reasons for Microsoft’s greater openness.

Windows 8 screen shotThe most important reason is that Windows lies at the heart of an extremely complex ecosystem. Microsoft needs to provide its partners, both computer manufacturers and enterprise customers, with a clear development roadmap. For OEMs, this is vitally important if they are to be able to ship optimized hardware, such as the new Windows 8 tablets, when the new software is released. This requires lots of lead time.

Windows also runs on an almost uncountable variety of of hardware configurations. Device manufacturers, like computer OEMs, need lead time to have optimized drivers ready when the new OS ships. Fortunately, Windows 8, like Windows 7 and unlike Vista, does not require extensive rewriting of drivers. But there are always issues of fine-tuning the software.

The variety of configurations also calls for extensive beta testing. There’s no way Microsoft can test any but a tiny proportion of the possibilities in-house. It needs debugging input from a large number of users.

Apple, by contrast, tightly controls the ecosystem. It can, and does, regularly release OS versions that render relatively new hardware and software obsolete. Apple can get away with this approach, which enables it to avoid Microsoft’s endless problems with legacy code, largely because it does not have to worry about keeping enterprise customers happy.

Apple’s development secretiveness does cause problems. New OS releases often cause serious compatibility problems. Even a relatively minor upgrade like Lion has produced a long list of hardware and software incompatibilities that probably would have been a lot shorter had Apple been more open with third-party developers. This is a price Apple is willing to pay, but that Microsoft, because of its different position in its own ecosystem, cannot afford.